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Saturday, April 12, 2008

As Expelled film set to open, Darwin lobby sets up attack site

So far the film is set to open. According to the Expelled Chronicle,
By it’s April 18th national release, EXPELLED producers know that a minimum of 900 US theaters will screen the satirical documentary, making it one of the widest documentary releases in US film history. Film distributor Rocky Mountain Pictures has estimated that 1,000 screens will be booked by opening day.

Providing immense assistance in getting the word out is Eugenie Scott's Darwin lobby, National Center for Science Education, which has dedicated a Web site, Expelled Exposed, to attacking the film.

Unfortunately, the site is kind of dull, just long rows of press releases from people attacking the film, et cetera. Mostly just who you would expect, but without the giant lizard graphics and the threats of imminent barbarian invasion. Some kind soul should give them a grant to put some spark in it.

Will Expelled succeed at the box office?

"How do you make a blockbuster out of a documentary about politics in academia?" asks Stacey Vanek-Smith for Marketplace.

She's skeptical that the Expelled team can pull off the feat of making U profs interesting:

"Expelled's star, Ben Stein, has a latte drinking, op-ed reading kind of following, but may lack the box officepull of, say, Jesus." (She is referencing the "surprise" hit The Passion of the Christ - but that was only a surprise to people who disproportionately believe what they read in legacy media.)

Vanek-Smith also notes that if Expelled fails at the box office, it certainly won't be for lack of trying:
"Expelled" is spending millions to succeed, huge for a documentary. It's hired four PR firms. It's running a sweepstakes for church groups, offering a cash prize to the one that sells the most tickets. It's paying up to 10 Grand for schools to send their students. The movie even staged a songwriting competition.

And then there's this:
PAUL LAUER: How do you get this big amoeba [American Christians] to flex its muscle? When it flexes, it's enormous. The challenge has always been, How do you get those people to activate.

I've wondered about that myself. The ID guys should be among the traditional Christians' culture heroes. If they are not, tacit adoption of the elite culture's materialism is the likely explanation. See, for example, the reading lists at Baylor science faculties - who's on and who's not. And we are not talking about intelligent design here, either, just Christians doing excellent science who are strangely absent. And just look who is present ...

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Expelled: Intellectual property vs. intellectual territorialism

Because I was working at Design of Life blog yesterday, I did not get a chance to cover the Expelled "plagiarism" flap. The accusation was that Expelled was using clips from a film of cellular machines produced by XVIVO for Harvard.

I figured I would catch up with the flap if it grew into an uproar, but it appears to be dying down now. Even PZ Myers has rethought his claim in the matter ("I was wrong" - accessed 10:17 am EST).

I was a permissions editor years ago, so here are some thoughts on the subject from that perspective:

- The Expelled team knew perfectly well that some would try legal action to stop the release of the film. A studio contact told me as much last summer, in response to a message from an anonymous "well-wisher":

"I do hopw that the makers of "Expelled" are aware of the lawsuits launched against the makers of "What the Bleep...", given that they obtained their interviews with several biologists unders false pretenses."

I asked a contact at the studio, and he tapped back,

"No worries. Reality is, in the U.S. you can sue a baloney sandwich if you want."

So I assume that, as professionals, the Expelled team retains legal counsel expert in the area and budgets for frivolous suits.
It all goes into the price of your ticket.

- I have no particular reason to doubt that the Expelled guys hired their own animator and produced cell animations from scratch. It is not a low budget production, and intellectual property issues are a foreseeable risk.

- If Expelled is focusing on the same cellular machinery as XVIVO, similarities may be expected. When I was a textbook editor, we frequently accused our competitors of copying us and they accused us of copying them. Of course we all denied it, but the truth was somewhere in the middle - and not actionable.

The first thing we would do when starting a project was to get hold of the competitors' texts, see what they were doing, identify strengths and weaknesses, note how the market reacted, and decide where we could improve on them. They did not have a case against us because we did not actually copy. We always did our own work from scratch, using different writers, layouts, angles, et cetera. (We had a budget for that.) And, of course, the competitors were taking apart our texts too, doing the same thing.

- Similar mistakes are not necessarily proof of copying, as claimed in the Expelled XVIVO case. In my experience, artists tend to make roughly similar errors when dealing with technical material, as well as errors of their personal invention.

- lastly, people who have worked hard on a long project become fiercely proprietary and territorial, and are apt to see copying where it has not occurred. I know because I did it myself on occasion, but wiser heads restrained me. And I in turn restrained others. Lots of things can be owned, but not ideas.

I wonder what the next flap will be. Expelled's foes had better hurry; the US release is less than a week away ...

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Wanted: Social scientist to study Expelled release

The release of Expelled is a marvellous opportunity for a social scientist. In addition to the people who may safely be expected to love the film, there are the people who may be expected to hate it, and are lining up to trash it. You will end up thinking it is two different films. Re the trash squad, they could just as well write their reviews from the pub across the street, and their fans would not mind.

Here are Scientific American honchoes predictable dumps on the film. Interesting that Guillermo Gonzalez, a Darwinist target, was actually one of SciAm's cover stories a couple of years ago. They seem to have forgotten that. Well, he is in the film as one of the Expelled, so judge for yourself.

Oh, and here is Roger Friedman of Fox News predicting career ruin for Ben Stein. Actually, on the contrary, many people who had never heard of Ben Stein before will soon consider him a household name. (Note: You must scroll down; the top item is Mariah Carey.)

It strikes me that these people are stuck in some kind of time warp. They don't understand that they have not demonstrated their case for Darwinism or materialism. What they have demonstrated is arrogance, bullying, close-mindedness, and an insistence on relying on unreasonable explanations that defend their theories instead of reasonable ones that accord with facts. See, for example, the strange tale of the peacock's tail at Design of Life blog.

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